Crash of the Polish Air Force One, 2014 Status Report
By Maria Szonert Binienda, J.D.
II. Air Navigation
D. Violations by Flight Control Group33
The process of preparation of the FCG and individual controllers is complex. Many tasks performed during such preparation demand high technical skills and good collaboration. All components of the system need to be calibrated and should be in good working conditions. This is the inter-related precisely codified control. The FCG tasks in preparation for flights are crucial. In the case of Polish Air Force One Flight 101, the radar was not calibrated, lights were broken, and radio marker was not working.
On April 10, 2010, three officers were assigned to FCG at the Severny Airport: Lieutenant Colonel Paul Plusnin as the Chief Air Traffic Controller (“CATC”) and two of his subordinates - Landing Zone Controller Capt. Victor Ryzenko ("LZC") and assistant flight controller Major Sergei Lubancov. The close zone controller was not on duty that day. Thus, the group composition was in violation of the Federal Aviation Rules for the State Flights ("Federal Regulations")34 because the FCG must consist of a minimum of four members.35
On April 10, 2010, there were only three people on duty at the Severny Airport and Lieutenant Colonel Plusnin acted as CATC and closer zone controller. Compounding different flight control functions is prohibited in Russia.36 Thus, on April 10, 2010, the FCG group should not have accepted any flights.
On the day when the Polish Air Force One was scheduled to land, Col. Nikolay Krasnokutski was also present in the air flight control tower at the Severny Airport but was not assigned any official function. His presence at the control tower was not authorized, yet he conducted important communications and exerted pressure on the CATC Plusnin to clear the Polish Air Force One to the minimum descent altitude.
According to Federal Regulations,37 CATC, his assistant, and LZC should undergo medical examination before the shift. As stated in the Russian Report, CATC Pavel Plusnin and LZC Viktor Ryzenko38 underwent medical examinations and were authorized to perform air traffic control functions by a doctor on duty at the medical point JW 06755. However, according to the Russian controllers' testimony given to the Russian prosecutor on April 10, 2010, the medical point was closed at that time. Both controllers decided themselves that ‘there were no obstacles to fulfill their duties’ judging on their wellbeing.39 Thus, the Russians disregarded vital information on the eligibility of the controllers to perform their duties that day at the Severny Airport.
Furthermore, no record exists which demonstrates that the controllers were authorized to work in difficult meteorological conditions. During questioning on April 18, 2010, Landing Zone Controller admitted it was only his second time in this role at the Severny Airport in Smolensk. His first shift took place on April 7. Within 12 months preceding the crash, he had handled this duty only nine times altogether. No documentation was provided to show that the Landing Zone Controller had ever been trained or authorized to operate and supervise the Precision Approach Radar RSP-6M2 System installed at the Severny Airport in Smolensk.
It is also evident that there was no military doctor on site at the Severny Airport in Smolensk that day even after the crash. Only the pathology doctor arrived at the crash scene. The mandatory test flight for weather conditions was not performed that day either. Such test flight was omitted allegedly due to the lack of an adequate aircraft and a crew assigned to such task. The CATC is responsible for directing such a test flight. Results of this flight should be included in the meteorological records. These records should also include a weather forecast report and results of the radar weather forecast. Such documents were not found at the Severny Airport that day. Federal Regulations also require a test flight to examine radio markers. Such test flight was not conducted that day. Furthermore, flights approaching the Severny Airport were allowed to descent to a minimum of 100 m (the lowest decision altitude for approaches without ILS), while the airport landing radar was only certified to 70 m. Thus, the traffic controllers were unable to perform their tasks during rapidly deteriorating weather conditions when heavy fog suddenly covered the airstrip.
CATC Plusnin violated Federal Regulations40 by inadequately performing his duties in many important respects. He did not assign any alternate airport and did not know weather conditions at possible alternate airports. He did not familiarize himself with the weather conditions at the Severny Airport and with activities of other airplanes in the vicinity of the Severny Airport. After the crash, he delayed the call for search and rescue services. The sirens went off 10-15 minutes after the crash. The absence of any reports documenting preparations by the FCG of the airdrome for the acceptance of the flights underscores the lack of preparation for the important VIP flight of the Polish Air Force One. The process of preparation before accepting flights is required as a matter of law. 41 Another set of duties unsatisfactorily performed or not performed at all by Liet-Col. Plusnin relates to his second function as the closer zone controller.
The inadequate preparation of LZC Cpt. Ryzenki to a large extent could have been detected by CATC or closer landing zone controller - both positions held by Lt.-Col. Plusnin. Had there been a proper preparation, checking of the readiness of the systems, infrastructure, weather, and the team, the malfunctions and errors could have been avoided.
The scope of duty of LZC Cpt. Ryzenko is also defined by Federal Regulations. During flight preparations, LZC Ryzenko did not precisely determine the boundaries and order of receiving the crews in the landing zone. LZC Ryzenko and CATC Plusnin did not convey to each other information on target distances and where they would pass the plane to each other. As a result of the lack of clear division of responsibilities between the two of them, neither of them helped the pilot at the critical distance.
Furthermore, LZC Ryzenko did not undergo medical examination; did not check the location of the landing path using radio markers, and did not identify them on a radar screen because he directed the aircraft along an incorrect gliding path. Also, he incorrectly incorporated coordinates of the slope data on guiding indicators and did not notify CATC or the meteorologist of radar identification of the weather conditions on the approach course. LZC Ryzenko did not check the system parameters of radar equipment before the arriving flight and did not check the status of all the cameras and recorders because the equipment did not work.
The decision-making process of guiding the Polish Air Force One in Russia was as follow: Moscow Logics Center – Col. Krasnokutski – CATC Plusnin and LZC Ryzenko – Polish Flight 101. It shall be noted that CATC in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel had to deal with officers of a higher rank. In this instance, CATC Lt.-Col. Plusnin accepted the presence of unauthorized person of a higher rank Col. Nikolay Krasnokutski, the third colonel at the airport. Officially, CATC Plusnin should be independent as he is responsible for the flight safety, but on April 10, 2010, he dealt with persons of a higher military rank who interfered with his duty.
On April 10, 2010 Col. Krasnokutski violated a number of Federal Regulations several times.42 He should not have discussed the issue of whether to send the airplane to an alternate airport or to clear it to the minimum descent altitude with CATC Plusnin. Unfortunately, such discussion took place and Col. Krasnokutski, upon discussing the matter with Moscow Logics, ordered CATC Plusnin to clear Flight 101 to the minimum descent altitude. The number of violations committed in the decision making process on April 10, 2010, was massive and directly affected the quality of work of the FCG. The rapidly deteriorating weather conditions and irregular cast of air traffic control crew compounded the problems.
The flight control is no doubt one of the pillars of air traffic safety. Nevertheless, Ruben Jesajan, a member of the IAC, did not react when a member of his subcommittee offended all controllers in the world in order to shift the blame for the Smolensk Crash to the Polish crew. Oleg Smirnov publically stated that in the air traffic control tower in Smolensk "a chimpanzee” could sit “and mumble" and that would not have any effect on the flight.43 Assuring safety of the airplanes, guiding and supporting the airplane crews, is within exclusive domain of the flight control specialists. Questioning this fundamental premise by the aviation expert investigating the Smolensk Crash demonstrates a significant disregard for the most fundamental principles of aviation safety. This attitude of the IAC members alone disqualifies the Russian Report on the investigation of the Smolensk Crash.
33 "Zbrodnia Smoleńska - Anatomia Zamachu," Wydawnictwo Antyk – Marcin Dybowski, 2011.
34Annex to the Command No. 275 of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation dated 24 September 2004, hereinafter referred to as “Federal Regulations.”
35 Par. 77 of Federal Regulations provides that the flight control group must consist of minimum four people. The group includes the flight control manager, assistant to the flight control manager, controller of the closer zone, and controller of the landing zone. Federal Regulations also provide that based on commander's decision another 10 members can be assigned to the flight control group. Thus, FCG must consist of no less than 4 and up to 14 authorized people.
36 See: Federal Regulations.
37 Paragraphs 95, 101, 110 and 112 of the Federal Regulations.
38 CATC Assistant Major W. Lubancev was also on duty that day.
39 „Zbrodnia Smoleńska - Anatomia Zamachu," Wydawnictwo Antyk – Marcin Dybowski, 2011
40 Par. 94 of Federal Regulations.
41 Par. 95 of Federal Regulations.
42 Par. 85 of Federal Regulations. Also, par. 99 of Federal Regulations states that: "The CATC shall not follow the command of higher-ranking officers if those commands remain in conflict with the provisions of the regulation of state aviation activities and do not assure flight safety."
43 See: Statements of Oleg Smirnow: “Nawet szympans nie przyczyniłby się do tragedii Tu-154,” wp.pl, February 17, 2011; http://bit.ly/1mgNMNg (retrieved March 17, 2014). If such statement was to be true then the world would not invest billions of dollars in air traffic services, traffic control, flight information service and air traffic management.